Posts Tagged ‘saitama

01
Feb
10

Black and White in Japan pt.6

I was not prepared for the level of verve I would have for the girls here in Japan. And, I don’t think any man can really prepare himself  for the onslaught of attention Japanese girls eagerly endow foreign men here. If a guy had had the same ratio of beautiful girls coming on to him or finding his charms irresistable back home then maybe he’d have developed the ability to manage his libido…I’m sure celebrities can identify. I certainly couldn’t.

Thus, I was like the proverbial fat rat in the cheese factory those first couple of years.

Joe and Greg witnessed this first hand. The parade of girls I’d march by them into my bedroom, while they sat in the livingroom watching movies or playing guitar. And each girl would give them that same look of utter embarrassment, looking like they wished they could just disappear or die, for she knew, like I knew, like my room mates knew, what was going to be happening in due course on the other side of that thin wall:

As Chic sang, Good times.

I didn’t understand why they weren’t doing the same and eventually chalked it up to they were too busy getting loaded to enjoy the fruits of their notoriety. They were both fairly handsome guys. Joe was even cool, in a bohemian way, young, smart, blond, blue-eyed, a Japanese girl’s wet dream come true. And Greg had this rough outback Malboro-Man thing going, (or maybe that was just my image of him) and he could play the six-string guitar like nobody’s business. I mean, when I say he played the guitar as a complaint, it’s only because he’d do it loud enough to disturb the neighbors and at all hours of the night. My qualms had NOTHING to do with his ability. He was truly gifted and a joy to listen to and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see his CD  and photos splashed all over some Tower Records store window display one day.

But, they just were not into the girls like I was. They’d eventually spread the word and I became known as the Machine among the Aussie community in Saitama. They’d come over to our apartment, loaded down with beers and snacks, and toast “to the Machine.”

But, I couldn’t be the source of the noise that was generating  ill will among our neighbors. It had to be the foreign sounds, I thought. Hell, everybody has sex, even Japanese (maybe not babies, though). I hear them occasionally, the thin walls do go both ways. But, I rarely hear televisions or radios or loud talking, even on weekends. Not at night, anyway.

And I told my room mates just that.

“Come on, now, Machine,” Joe said with a smirk. “That noise coming out of your room is not usual.”

“Yeah, man, it sounds like you’re slaying them with your big, black pocket monster,” Greg added. “I know all you guys are packing heavy!”

“Whoa!” I snapped. “Ok…”

“What?” Greg snapped back. “You trying to tell me that you’re not as big as a…?”

“I said WHOA motherfucker!” I snapped again. “Whoa means chill the fuck out with that shit!”

“What’s your problem?” he asked genuinely alarmed by my reaction to what he probably thought was a compliment.

My problem?” I cried looking at Greg then turned to Joe. “My problem?” I repeated.

They both sat there looking at me, stunned into silence at my outburst. I still hadn’t found the words to address this issue, though. I had actually planned to postpone any discussion of it until I had. Going into it half-cocked didn’t seem wise, considering the harmony of our living arrangement hang in the balance. And they were actually really cool guys and I’d heard Nova room-mate horror stories (kleptomania, assaults, property damage, etc…) so I knew I could easily be doing worse…much worse!

But, I felt things had come to a head.

“Listen fellas,” I said. “I don’t know how things are in Australia and New Zealand, or even in Japan for that matter, but I know how…how I’d like things to be in this apartment, in our home.”

They were still watching me, a little on guard. Greg more so than Joe. My outburst had put him on edge, and I could tell he was a fighter. I pictured him, through my Crocodile Dundee-tinted lenses, as one of those guys who punched people in the jaw as a greeting back home, where bar brawls were probably par for the course.  While Joe looked serene, sharp but pensive.

“I’m a little sensitive when it comes to racial…um…let’s say racial identification,” I began, and I knew I had stepped on a slippery slope. Especially when their eyes started bulging. “For example, the words Nigger, and Colored, even Negro…they just don’t sit well with me. You follow me?”

“What about black?” Joe asked. “Is black okay?”

Thrilled that I’d reached one of them I said almost excitedly, “Yeah! Black is, how do you say it, Sweet as!”

“Sweet as…” Joe said, smiling. Everything was Sweet as with him. It was his favorite phrase.

“What’s wrong with colored?” Greg asserted. “That’s what we call our color…black guys back home. They don’t seem to mind.”

“What can I tell you, man? I ain’t Australian,” I said as calmly as I could, for I could see Greg was still tense. “I’m from a place where calling a black man Colored, especially if it’s a young white guy like you doing it, is like saying, ‘I need someone to whip my ass. Are you busy?'”

They both fell out laughing. I joined in.

“I got you,” Greg said after a couple of minutes.

“I got a question, though,” Joe said through his laughter. “You know I like Hip Hop, so…”

“So you want to know why do a lot of the Hip Hop artist say Nigga all the time?” I said, anticipating where he was going. “That’s a difficult question. And I’m afraid I can’t even answer it. I mean, maybe they like to embrace the horror. Or maybe they think by overusing it they’re defusing it. Trying to render it harmless. Or maybe they are so young that they have no idea how hurtful the word used to be in their grandparents’ time. Maybe they’re just ignorant.  Talented, rich, influential, but ignorant. I really can’t answer that question.”

“Oh…” Joe sighed, looking bummed out. “That’s kind of fucked up.”

“Yeah, we’re gonna sit here feeling sorry for Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg and Puff Daddy…I think not,” I laughed. “Let’s go get some brews and wake up the neighbors. We can finish this meeting next time…”

“Now you’re talking!” Greg said.

And we lived happily ever after…

the end

Loco

PS: Happy Black History Month to you Americans out there!

09
Jan
09

And yet MORE things I LOVE about Japan: Service & Safety

5  & 6 – Service with a gleam and a song / Otherworldly Safe

When I first moved to Japan I lived in Musashi Urawa out in Saitama. It’s about 20 minutes from Tokyo on the notorious Saikyo Line.  The Ekimae (the area around the station) has a handful of of shops and restaurants…and as is the norm at virtually every station I’ve been to in and around Tokyo, there’s a Macdonald’s and a Starbuck’s. Can’t say I was the biggest fan of either back in NY, but I love both here. The Japanese Macdonald’s is different than the Macdonald’s back home. And, the familiarity of Starbuck’s is like finding water on Mars.

Until you go inside, that is.

First, you’re struck by the cleanliness. There’s a gleam to everything. And there’s at least 1 or 2 staff people cleaning at all times, tweaking the clean, like they do in Macdonald’s commercials but you never see it in real life.

There are two registers open with two pretty college girls, looking handpicked for counter appeal, taking orders, and three others in the prep area waiting diligently like very disciplined, well postured and well-paid maids in a castle somewhere. Very “Remains of the day” looking…only extremely cheery and Japanese.

You check out the menu…most of the usual suspects are there: all kinds of Lattes and Chais and whatnot. You peruse it trying not to be distracted by the patient, smiling, gorgeous co-ed standing before you. Then, you place your order: “Yeah, let me get uh grande Iced Caramel Macchiato please.” Then you remember you’re speaking English…Being in Starbuck’s just doesn’t feel like Japan. You get ready to repeat your order in your broken Japanese when the staff smiles and repeats your order. Then she sings it to the preparers, who are suddenly called into action, as they sing the order in response, and in unison…with prepubescent mickey mouse voices.  It’s the cutest thing you’ve ever heard…and kind of sexy, in my opinion. They are the happiest staff people you’ve ever seen.  You actually believe they are happy to serve you. You’ve never felt that about the staff anywhere that didn’t stand to make a sweet commission off of your purchase. You don’t know it yet but it’s a routine you’re going to be enjoying on a daily basis, with the same consistent cheer, at Starbuck’s and the vast majority of the businesses you patronize, for the next five years.

Welcome to Japan…

Then you take your order to a seat. Most of them are full. You see an empty seat near the door. Bollocks, there’s a computer and a cell phone on the table, and a purse on the chair. You immediately look for the owner…they must be close. That’s a lot of value sitting there by its lonesome. But, there is no one not seated anywhere near it besides you. You look around for another unoccupied table. You spot one in the back. It’s free. It’s next to the bathroom. You plant yourself and sip your delicious drink. A couple of  minutes later a girl emerges from the restroom and strolls to the table where you’d seen the PC, phone and purse, sits, and resumes doing her homework or whatever.

You think to yourself, Man, if she had done that in NY there’s a very good chance she would have come back to an empty table. A very, VERY good chance. Then you wonder how true that is. You’ve actually never seen anyone so stupid before and of course you’ve never left your belongings behind while you so much as looked out the window, let alone went to the bathroom. It’s simply unthinkable, anti-common sense. It almost warrants being robbed. You imagine that if you went to the police station in NY after being robbed and explained that “…when I came back from the bathroom a few minutes later, all of my stuff was gone,” they would laugh and say, “if it wasn’t for dickheads like you, there wouldn’t be any thievery in this world, would there?”

You don’t it know then, but three years later you’ll be the one going to the bathroom leaving your belongings behind because you would have been living in a country where what you grew up to believe is common sense isn’t common sense, it’s nonsense, it’s virtually unthinkable, and this kind of thinking eventually rubs off on you. So much that you’re almost afraid to go home for if you do then you will need to re-install that old paranoid software, also known as survival instincts, that it took all of three years to un-install.

And you realize that you actually hated having to drag your computer to the toilet with you…not because it’s a pain in the ass, but because it indicated that no one in your vicinity could be trusted…that you lived in a trust-free environment your entire life and accepted it as the way of the world.

Well, not in this world.

Welcome to japan…

Loco

30
Nov
08

10 ways NOT to go loco in Yokohama #2: Props and Camouflage

As I’ve mentioned, #1: Don’t be you, is by far the most difficult step. A lot of water has to pass under the bridge before that kind of transformation can occur. So, what do you do in the meantime? My mother used to say, “fake it until you can make it!” In other words, pretend not to be you. This is much simpler.

I used to work for NOVA. Those of you who live here know of it, I’m sure. For those of you who don’t know, it used to be the biggest language school franchise here in Japan, focusing primarily on English instruction since English is in the greatest demand here. I won’t get into my life at NOVA. It’s not essential for this post (maybe I’ll tackle it in later post.) What is relevant is that the uniform for Nova instructors was at minimum slacks, shirt and tie, but they preferred you wear a suit. And so most everyday I left my house dressed very conservatively. This was not my preferred mode of dress.

Before I came to Japan, I used to work at a reputable company in New York and there, too, the expectation was for all account executives to wear suits. And, so, for the money, I did.

At first, I loved it. I loved the way wearing a suit made me feel. Like I was successful. Like I had made it, climbed out of the ghetto, scaled above the low expectations of the people I grew up among. I was a suit, goddammit, you better recognize! I loved the attention…some of it anyway. Girls went crazy for guys in a suit. Yes, I work somewhere where the requirement is that I look like this on a daily basis… What a statement to shout at some cutie looking to upgrade from the lifer she’d just sent two pairs of Timberlands and some Long-Johns to Upstate. (aka Prison)

But, it wasn’t long before I started hating suits. My hate was prompted by a number of factors. I didn’t particularly like the way my suit spoke to people on my behalf without my permission, sometimes without even my knowledge. It confessed  things I’d rather people didn’t know with a glance. It told people things about me that weren’t necessarily accurate. Things i often found myself having to retract or modify. Sometimes it even told all-out lies and, inexplicably, people would eat them up. It whispered to girls that I had money and security, education and standing. It yelled at my friends and people in my neighborhood that I was pretentious and thought I was better than them. It told salespeople and con-artist that I was an optimum target. It told some people, “He’s a hustler…so, you better be careful,” and told others “He’s a Jehovah’s Witness…get ready to get solicited!.”

Not unlike a soldier in uniform, a Police Officer or a Firefighter, unless you knew me already, I practically ceased to exist in a suit, the symbolism was so powerful. I used to practically tear it off of me whenever I’d leave the office for the day. When I quit that job I swore, unless necessary, I would never take a job where a suit was the uniform ever again.

But, I wanted to come to Japan and NOVA was my opening so I broke down and broke my promise. Their explanation being that in Japan, as in other countries, a suit says professional. that was understandable.

Now, here’s the thing: While I was working for NOVA, I lived in Saitama and, of course the same offenses that occur now occurred then. Japanese people behaved the same way in Saitama as they do in Yokohama. But, to a significantly lesser degree. After I quit NOVA, I had to move out of the apartment they had furnished, and eventually made my way to Yokohama. I was told (by Japanese friends) that Yokohama people are accustomed to foreigners, what with all the military cats and whatnot. A Gaijin-friendly environment that won’t set me back considerably? Hell yeah, I was in. I started working at a Japanese public school, which is an entirely different environment than the one NOVA provided. And, in this environment, to my extreme delight, suits were not required. That was a bigger fringe benefit than the six-week vacation in the summer. At the same time, I noticed that the Japanese in Yokohama were not as tolerant of me as the Saitama Japanese were. Which went contrary to what I was told.

Well, you guessed it by now, I’m sure. It was the fucking suit! It took me a few months to catch on, though. And an even longer time to breakdown and wear one again. The idea of being forced to wear a suit just so that Japanese people would feel more comfortable around me was offensive as well. If your child is acting out in the supermarket over some candy they simply must have, sure you might go ahead and buy it just to shut them up, or you might pop them upside the head, like my mother would do, and they’ll learn how to behave out in public. if your dog shits in your slippers, you might give him a Scooby snack or you might put your foot in his ass. I felt like I was betraying a rule of nature. It felt really wrong, soulfully wrong, to reward the Japanese misbehavior.

But, in the interest of maintaining your sanity (and your freedom), and unless you think you’ll get a kick out of putting your foot up dozens of asses and popping dozens of Japanese upside the head every day (I’ve been there and trust me your foot and hand, metaphorically, will get very tired and in the end they’ll just be more asses to kick and heads to pop), you had better take tip #2: Props and Camouflage to heart. It can put a big dent in the number of offenses you incur daily. Trust me.

Of course, if you wear suits daily anyway, you’ll be glad to know at least partially why you haven’t experienced the obscenities that prompted this tip making the list.

In addition to a suit, I’ve experimented with a few props that you might find of use. One of the most popular reasons Japanese give me for their behavior (yes, I’m an inquisitive mofo) is due to the fact they can’t speak English and they’re afraid that foreigners might try to communicate with them and create some kind of embarrassing international incident. Fine. Unacceptable, but fine. I didn’t believe it, however. I thought it was my skin color for sure. So, I put it to the test.

Let’s see now…how could I make it clear to the people around me that I could speak Japanese? That way, I could see if their manners would improve.

There are a few ways, some more effective than others.

While I’m standing in line and the Japanese in my vicinity begin their dance of discomfort, (and in lieu of doing my daily dance of despair and disillusionment) i whip out my cellphone:

“Moshi Moshi!” I stage whisper.

No answer. Of course there’s no answer. It’s a fake call. I’m actually talking to everyone standing on line.

“Ah sou nan da!….Eeeeeto ne…Honto ni?… Maji de?… Ja, kinyoubi yoru hachi-ko de aou ka? ku-ji goro? Ii naaa. Ii naa…Hai! Hai! Sou sou sou sou. Hai! Wakatta! Ja ne, bye bye.” You don’t say! Well…really? Seriously? Ok, let’s meet at that famous statue of a dog in Shibuya on Friday night…about 9? Cool! Cool. Right, right, yeah yeah yeah yeah. Alright. You bet! Later.

While you’re having this conversation with the people on line, via yourself, you might notice some of them, upon hearing your fairly native sounding Nihongo, visually relax, like they’d been waiting to exhale ever since they first noticed you. Try not to laugh. It’s important to learn some native sounding phrases and practice them over and over until they feel natural to you. Some of the people on line couldn’t care less if you were fluent or not. But, you’ll relieve the anxiety of a handful, guaranteed.

And that’s what these tips are all about: reducing the number of offenses, which will increase your chances of keeping your sanity intact.

Also, you might try picking up a Japanese language newspaper at the newsstand. I know, feels like a waste of money, but it does wonders. Make all kinds of faces like you’re comprehending what may to you be totally incomprehensible (actually I can read a little now so my facial expressions have become pretty authentic.) You know, go through the motions. And, make sure you read from the top to the bottom of the column then start at the top of the next column, right to left, otherwise you’ll expose your deception in the most embarrassing way. Might even draw some snickers. (Been there, done that) It sounds silly, and you might even feel loco doing it at first. But, compared to the daily feeling of repressed rage and the stress of not opening up a can of whup-ass on someone who has given you clear indication they need it bad, It’s a marked improvement. It might even inspire someone near you enough to do something as neighborly as speak to you–which could backfire if you can’t speak any Japanese.

Which leads me to my next tip: #3- Learn that Japanese!

Loco

24
Oct
08

A little about me and Japan: Part 1- Aiko

Aiko

We first met in Spring, 2003. I was riding my mamachari around Urawa City, mainly exploring and looking for some trouble to get into, when I rode passed this hostess bar. I can’t remember the name, but standing in front were 3 girls, all kawaii to the fullest. At least I thought so then. Two of them had that Harajuku gya-ru look: tanned, sparkly, streaked hair and heavy makeup, and what not. The third one was a beauty minus the adornments and transfiguring. She was dressed in a Yukata, a light summer kimono, and her hair was pinned up revealing her lovely neck and cheeks. Not the one of them looked over 20.

As I passed, I gave them a little smile of acknowledgment, and they being business girls, gave me open, welcoming yet perfunctory cheese. I was half a block away when I heard their voices call after me. I almost crashed in my haste to acknowledge them. I turned and cruised back trying to look less eager than I felt. I had been in Japan about two months by then, and suffice it to say I was open to Japanese girls. Wide Open! So open, that I hadn’t even noticed that I was being hailed in English! Fairly good English at that. The kind of English acquired living abroad for a short time or through regular association with gai-jin.

It was the un-tanned girl that was doing the talking. I rolled beside her and she began to pitch the business. “Only 5000 yen and you can sit and drink with me!” I told her straight out she must be mad. Back in the states, we rarely pay that much without a guaranteed happy ending. She laughed out loud. “This is not America!” The banter continued, she saying that a roll in the hay, with another girl of course, not her, would cost about $5000 US, and it was my turn to laugh out loud. The ice was broken between us, and after we’d established that I was not a potential client and she was not going to be serving me for cash, the conversation shifted to something typical of what would take place between two people who are attracted to one another. She’d initially given me her stage name “Reira” but after the biz talk had ceased, she confided her name was Aiko.

“I’m a university student, studying psychology,” she said.

I wasn’t surprised, I told her. Many college students, even in the US, do similar jobs to make ends meet. “Maximizing your assets” I said and she laughed. It was so refreshing to have someone Japanese laugh at my jokes…usually they would giggle at how entertaining and unusual the foreigners were. But humor was totally missed; a cultural and language gap that for many would never be filled. But. Aiko was right there in the gap with me.  Raking up cool points. We talked until it became clear to the others standing around, including her Yakuza boss and what-not, that it wasn’t business. Before I left we exchanged text message addresses and promises to keep in touch. I rode away with such a high that I sang all the home.

Now, at the time, I was seeing this girl, Rico. She too could speak English a bit, but, to put it mildly, was too bland for me. I’d met her my first night in Japan- at a club in Roppongi, no less. We connected and a couple of days later we fornicated and for my first taste of true Asian loving, it was incredible…mentally anyway. Otherwise, it wasn’t much different than the tastes of home.  After that mental charge wore off, which took all of a month, my eyes were roving. The week after I met Aiko, I broke it off with Rico.

I met up with Aiko again that week and we went for a stroll around my neighborhood. A tree-lined path I hadn’t really explored well, lead to a park with a lake, surrounded by a path. We walked along it, in the darkness, talking. She talked about her hobby, singing.aiko-singing2 A jazz singer, at that. I was and still am a great connoisseur of jazz so we had a lot to talk about. I told about the history of jazz. She knew bits and pieces and I knew a bit more than she did. She listened with eyes that devoured my words. We also shared admiration for Chomsky and discussed some of his ideas…and movies! We both loved film. She knew director names and filmographies and what not and we could talk endlessly about them. It was well after 11pm by then, and she’d ought to have been headed home, for the last train to her home was around midnight, but she didn’t stop. Neither of us wanted to. We took a seat and sat hand-in-hand, and talked all night. I was annoyed by the bugs and she was afraid of the bats, and we were both taken aback by sounds and motion seemingly coming out of the darker places in the park, but we didn’t vacate until sunrise.

A couple of weeks later I convinced her to be my girlfriend. I didn’t know it then, but girlfriend/boyfriend selection is a bit more complicated in Japan than in the US. The thought process is very different. For me, it was just assurance that we would be having sex soon and that I would have the companionship of the most interesting person I’d met since I’d been in Japan. But, for her, well…it was absolutely crucial, for the boyfriend title is taken very, very seriously. Maybe it’s the same in the US and all these years I just hadn’t noticed, because I never took it too seriously. In my young days, it was just about sex for me. If I asked you to be my girl, it meant I wanted to fuck you. And, if we were having sex on a regular basis, without our status having been discussed, then we were just seeing each other, but I might let you tell others I’m your man and on occasion I might tell others you were my girl…of sorts. But, if I made it official, that is, actually saying the words “be my girl” it meant that I was seriously considering fucking you and only you…

Aiko and I hadn’t had sex yet when I sprung the question on her. And she resisted, put up quite a fight as I recall. I told her that I wanted to have fun, and isn’t that what being bf & gf is all about? But, though Aiko was a college student, she was 24 years old already, and in Japan, that’s approaching old maid status, so, many things had to be considered before saying yes. And she considered them all. I know! Maybe not aloud (in English anyway) but she had the kind of intelligence and mental engine that molded her face into a mask of beautiful brilliance. I hadn’t known it then, but that was when I fell in love with her. The time  period between the walk in the park and  her simply saying “yes” to me. I mean, she used language, primary language, which is the only way we could communicate initially, but my mind, my native dictionary, gave her words the depth I’m certain they would have had in her native tongue.

After she said Yes, that’s when things started getting rocky. She quit her hostess job and got a regular job and I got complacent. Unaccustomed to the amount of attention I was getting from women, I became something of a predator. I had girls lined up. At the rather late age of 38,  I was finally sowing my oats the way I never had in America. I was regressing into an almost adolescent mindset of  conquest nearly without remorse. But, Aiko, poor Aiko, was always home to me. We fought and argued as couples do, about “where were you” and “your friends are more important than me” and “Are you seeing another girl,” etc…And also about some new (to me) issues that I believe (but I could be wrong, and probably am) resulted from our totally different cultures like, “you are so rude” and “why don’t you keep your promises” and “you don’t have any respect for me or my culture,” etc…

But, otherwise, we were very good together. We had so much in common. We both wanted to travel and study. Her particular branch of psychology explored the psychological impact of cultural differences. In other words, she was fascinated, and borderline obsessed with her people’s fixation with Western Culture. She was totally disgusted by her brethren inability to see the individuality of foreigners, their tendency to overlook the gaijin’s glaring issues in favor of their unusualness in what has to be one of the most homogeneous cultures remaining in existence. She called these people “Gaijin Freaks” and she had decided to make a documentary exploring this national phenomenon. But, before she could do that, she had to explore it on a personal basis, I believe. I think that’s where I came in. Also, I told her I was writing a book about my experiences in Tokyo, comparing and contrasting the differences in culture with that of NY. She loved the idea and we decided to work together to accomplish each others goals. We bonded in this way, and so our discussions on the matter, which were often heated, were also enlightening and educational for both of us.

We went on like this for many months, seeing each other a couple of times a week, talking, fighting, loving, and learning from each other. She helped me with my Japanese and I helped her, when requested, with her English. However, most often my assistance was not sought directly. She resisted for some reason I always had  difficulty putting a finger on. Perhaps it had something to do with the stigma that girls in Japan live under…that they fuck with foreign guys in order to get free English lessons, or for their dick-size, or for some kind of status symbol (English ability and capacity to interact with foreigners being a sign of a “globalized” mentality or merely cool) or just a kind of Jungle fever, being that most foreign cultural ideas are considered at best unusual  and at worst bizarre and uncivilized by most Japanese. But, in any event,  she resisted.

At the same time, I was still notching my belt,  so to speak. I’m not exactly proud of my behavior, but I had some good times, and I was definitely in that state of mind from the time of my arrival here. Having a good time was high on my priority list. Aiko was a still a university student, working part time, and living with her parents, so I couldn’t see her whenever I wanted to. I guess I could’ve seen her more than I did, but I used her restraints to rationalize my exploits.

One day I told her, out of the blue, that I needed a break. That I had some serious concerns about our relationship, which I did, but not enough to refuse to see her the way I did. She didn’t know it at the time but it wasn’t because of her but because I had a fever blister on my mouth and I was ashamed to see her or even go to work. I don’t know why I get that way about cold sores. There shouldn’t be any shame but maybe it’s because of it’s placement on the lip, in the most conspicuous and intimate of places, making it the bane of my existence on this planet. My vanity, or my self-consciousness, projected into the minds of others…and oh how I am concerned with what other people think of me!  Once or twice a year, an outbreak occurs, and that is the source of my anguish. Depending on the size of the blister, I can either weather it or cower in my house for days, avoiding contact with all humans I know, whose judgment I worry about. I hate the power it has over me, the fear it induces in me, but I’ve  allowed it to happen for over 20 years now. How could I expose this to Aiko, I wondered. I wasn’t prepared to do that, yet. I needed more time,  I said to myself, so I went into hiding. I guess I could’ve come up with a better excuse than I need some time to think about our relationship, but I get so emotionally unwound when an outbreak occurs that I just lose it and the feelings of others take a backseat to my own. She simply couldn’t make sense of this sudden flip.

A week later my lip had healed up and I tried to resume relations with Aiko, but, as I should’ve expected, my behavior had changed her outlook on our relationship as well.  She was very much in love with me, I knew, but now she was leerier. She became much more independent. Hanging out with her friends, looking for work. She started teaching private lessons, too.  She wanted to do research to better understand foreigners, I guess, and make some extra money, so she started teaching Japanese. She placed an ad on a website frequented by ex-pats and the responses came in. One student, in particular, she began to have unusual conversations with. At the time, I thought she was losing her goddamn mind, holding lengthy, giggly conversations, in my house with this guy. I didn’t fully realize she was crying out for attention by making me jealous. I’m so blind to shit like that some times. I was utterly clueless.  Meanwhile, I was beginning to believe that I couldn’t possibly love her if I was capable of doing the things I did on the side. How can you see other women if you are in love? I wasn’t raised that way. The culture I was reared in certainly didn’t encourage that kind of behavior.

So, I broke up with her in my typically cruel fashion, the combination of jealousy and guilt propelling me,  using words like “I can’t stop you from fucking anybody. All I can do is trust that you don’t.” At the time, I didn’t think these words were particularly harsh, but she found them to be devastatingly indicative of my lack of emotional investment in our relationship. And, with a thud, we broke up. I took on another girlfriend, a girl that I had been cheating on Aiko with, one who’d shown promise as far as a future together was concerned…We began to see each other more regularly…I proceeded to try to replace Aiko with her, transfer my feelings for Aiko to this new entity. In my mind, at the time, Japanese women had become that transitive. They basically behaved the same, thought the same, felt the same, looked the same, fucked the same…I thought it didn’t matter. In other words, I was slowly dehumanizing them, again, in my efforts to rationalize my exploits. And, it worked…for about  4 weeks. During which I began to feel, see, taste, hear, and smell the difference between this other girl and Aiko. Between ALL other girls and Aiko.

Meanwhile, Aiko had taken up with some other guy, too, (the same student she had been all giggly with on the phone) and I would learn later, was experiencing something akin to what I had.  I began to communicate with her again. I wanted to be friends, I told her. What I really wanted was to feel her energy, her vitality, her gentleness and kindness, and anger, and fury, again. She was unique! So, we became friends, of sorts. We talked, and argued, especially when she talked about how happy she was with her new beau. I was jealous, I tried to subtly undermine their relationship, then soon progressing to not so subtle attempts. In my heart I wanted to stalk, to prey, to take what I believed to be mine! But, Aiko, stubborn as she was, resisted, with a calmness, a nonchalantness, that only fanned my anger. Eventually,  I gave up, at least with  the aggressive stuff. And, we really became friends. I told her “feel free to talk to me about anything, even him.” And, she did, to a certain extent. I became calm, resolute. I figured, it’s all for the best. I will probably fuck it up if we were to ever get back together anyway, I told myself.

Not two days after I came to this resolution did Aiko call me to say she missed me and that she did not feel about her boyfriend the way she felt about me, and indicated, for the first time, that she wanted to re-conciliate. I was walking back from the 7-11 when I got the call. I was half-way home, a bagful of junk food, ready to couch potato the night away, when I received her call. I stopped there in the street and we talked. I fell in love with her again that night. or maybe it just deepened a bit.

But, still, it was not love like I had known before. Maybe love is different with every person, every relationship. Or, maybe I have some serious emotional issues that make me incapable or hard-pressed to feel and behave the way I’ve been taught that you’re supposed to when you’re in love. I really don’t have the answers. All I know is that night I felt more satisfied with myself than I had in a long time. Maybe it was as simple as she had chosen me over him. Simply a victory over an adversary. Victory feels good doesn’t it? I felt great! I was perfect…I contained my glee, I didn’t beat my chest, although I felt like it, I did a little end-zone dance in my heart and mind, while I said words like “I’m glad you feel like you can come to me when you’re unhappy…that’s all I wanted.”

A couple of weeks of negotiation later, we were back together, with a renewed resolve to make it work. I cut down considerably with my philandering and focused more on studying and making money.  And we had some good times. It had been over a year since we’d met. Our routines were basic but very nice. On Saturdays, she’d meet  me at Starbucks and we’d have some coffee and talk about various things, or we’d help each other with language stuff. Or, we’d go to an izakaya and have dinner, and smoke and joke, or fight and argue, but we were together. Then, we’d go to my house and make love and talk until it was time for her to go home. Sometimes she’d stay, but most often that would cause problems at home. Arguments and fights with her parents…which she didn’t want to get into. Sometimes we’d go to the movies, or to a restaurant in Ebisu or Shinjuku or Shibuya or Omiya. She loved good food and coffee as much as I did.

I used to give her coupons when I fucked up. A coupon which entitled the bearer to something like: For one week, I will or will not do something she liked or disliked, and she loved it!  And I’d always keep the promise, conspicuously. She loved promises to be kept. She was a very simple girl on many levels. Just that she was involved with a much simpler man, me. I could never be like her father…not entirely. He was a descendant of samurai, and had what she called the Bushido spirit, which I think she had, too. My spirit is derived from my mother, which is more of a motherly, nurturing, emotional spirit. But, somehow, she was able to see and embrace the best in me. When we fought, it was her fire, her stubbornness, her pride, that borne her. She was not passive, not weak, not angelic or baby doll like, and yet she was soft, and pliable, and sweet and tender and delicate.

In the summer of 2004 she had asked me to feel something growing under her skin. It was a tumor. She went to the hospital and they tried to remove it but could only remove part of it. She spent a couple days in there and all of her friends came to see her. She was a little depressed about being in the hospital, and I spent as much time as I could with her. She had to go back and forth to the hospital throughout the summer and she’d hated it, while the doctors tried to ascertain what was causing the tumor, and whether it was malignant or not. They never did find out.

Summer 2005, a new tumor came, in her back, followed soon by a third in her leg. But, she did not want to spend another summer in the hospital, so she decided to spend it with her friends and with me. But once the summer was over, she could no longer put it off. There was pain. She called them her children, like little fetuses springing up all over body. By winter,  I had lost count. 10 or 15 tumors…she had to be hospitalized repeatedly. Test after test neither confirmed nor denied their malignancy. But the doctors treated them like malignancies and gave her anti-cancer drugs and pain medication…

February 27th 2006 Aiko passed away from complications due to these malignancies.

I loved her very much and I still miss her. She was Japan to me.me-and-aiko

Loco

More on Aiko




Copyright © 2010 Loco in Yokohama / All Rights Reserved

Please know that this blog is my original writing and may not be reproduced in any way without the expressed written permission of the author (that's me!) Thanks!

Words I love…

Everybody is a star
I can feel it when you shine on me
I love you for who you are
Not the one you feel you need to be
Ever catch a falling star
Ain't no stopping 'til it's in the ground
Everybody is a star
One big circle going round and round

Words by: Sly Stone

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